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My Take: Town prayers need less Jesus, more Krishna
May 21st, 2013
11:35 AM ET

My Take: Town prayers need less Jesus, more Krishna

Editor's note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

(CNN) — At first glance, it would seem that the town of Greece, New York, has been brazenly violating the First Amendment. For roughly a decade, it invited local Christians — and only Christians — to offer prayers opening its Town Board meetings.

Two non-Christian town residents — Susan Galloway (who is Jewish) and Linda Stephens (who is an atheist) — objected, arguing that this practice violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion.”

The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, finding that the town’s practice of repeatedly inviting Christians to offer demonstrably Christian prayers amounted to an unconstitutional endorsement of Christianity. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take up the case.

As Town of Greece v. Galloway made its way through the courts, the town, represented by the Arizona-based (and faith-based) nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom, argued that the founders prayed in public, and members of the U.S. Congress continue to do so today. To side with Galloway and Stephens, therefore, is to determine that members of the House and Senate have been violating the constitution for over two centuries.

Ayesha Khan, legal director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which represents Galloway and Stephens in the lawsuit, said in a statement that “legislative bodies should focus on serving the community and stay out of the business of promoting religion.”

That is unlikely to happen, since there is, as Alliance Defending Freedom has argued, an “unambiguous and unbroken history” of prayer in government bodies in the United States. But there is an equally long history of ensuring that these prayers are, as Americans United has observed, “inclusive and non-sectarian.” And those in Greece were neither.

According to the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision, “Christian clergy delivered each and every one of the prayers for the first nine years of the town’s prayer practice, and nearly all of the prayers thereafter.” Moreover, “a substantial majority of the prayers in the record contained uniquely Christian language,” including references to “Jesus Christ” as “our Savior.”

This “steady drumbeat of often specifically sectarian Christian prayers,” the appeals court concluded, left an indelible “impression” that the town was “associated ... with the Christian religion.”

Town of Greece v. Galloway is a vexing case. What makes it vexing is that, when it comes to church/state questions, Americans have traditionally opted for a middle path between a theocratic marriage and Great-Wall-of-China-style separation. As a result, U.S. Supreme Court justices are left in many cases to intuit whether a particular practice leans too far toward either extreme to be acceptable.

Nonetheless, there seems to be a clear path forward here.

As I see it, the U.S. Supreme Court is not going to outlaw prayer in the U.S. Congress or in town board meetings. It made that clear in Marsh v. Chambers (1983), where it upheld a tradition of opening prayers in the Nebraska state legislature.

But neither is the Supreme Court going to permit in these venues a “steady drumbeat of often specifically sectarian Christian prayers."

In other words, the question the Supreme Court decided on Monday to take up is not whether town boards can pray but what sorts of prayer practices are constitutional in governmental settings.

When the founders listened to prayers in the early republic, they never would have allowed any one Christian denomination to enjoy a monopoly over the others. But neither would they have insisted that some be delivered by a Muslim or a Hindu, as is the practice in the U.S. Congress today. Nonetheless, the key principle was established — that such prayers should reflect the religious diversity of the nation at the time.

That diversity is much broader today, of course. At the interfaith prayer services after 9/11 and after the Boston marathon bombings, it was not enough to have a Presbyterian and a Quaker rubbing shoulders with a Congregationalist. Such services are not truly interfaith nowadays unless they include Catholics and Jews, Muslims and Sikhs, and perhaps a secular humanist, too.

In a “friend of the court” brief signed by 49 members of Congress, the Family Research Council argued that 97% of the prayers offered in the U.S. Congress are offered by Christians and the “majority of these prayers include identifiably Christian content.”

If that is true, then that needs to change, lest Americans be given the impression that the U.S. Congress is a Christian missionary organization. Still, it should be noted that the prayer practice in Greece was even more egregiously exclusive and sectarian, with all the prayers over a nine year period being given by Christians.

After Greece’s town board was called out by Galloway and Stephens, it caught a brief whiff of pluralism (and constitutionality) in 2008, when it allowed prayers to be offered by a Wiccan, a Baha’i, and a Jew. Thereafter, however, it returned to the unconstitutional practice of inviting only Christian clergy.

That practice might have been permissible in 1787 or 1812, but it does not pass constitutional muster in 2013, when the United States is, as President Barack Obama acknowledged in his first inaugural address, “a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers.”

In discussions about this case, defenders of the town have expressed nostalgia for a time when Christian prayers — and only Christian prayers — would pass constitutional muster. Defenders of Galloway and Stephens have hoped for a future when no prayers would be allowed at such gatherings. The Supreme Court is likely to please neither side, nor should it.

Our tradition is to allow public prayer at public gatherings of this sort, but to insist that such prayers (in the aggregate) be inclusive and non-sectarian. So if the citizens of Greece, New York, want to continue to hear before their town board meetings that Jesus Christ is "our savior," they are going to have to line up some Hindu priests willing to tell them that Krishna is "our Lord." Anything less than that just won't pass constitutional muster, at least not in 2013.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Baha'i • Church and state • Interfaith issues • United States

soundoff (369 Responses)
  1. Greg

    "97% of the prayers offered in the U.S. Congress are offered by Christians and the “majority of these prayers include identifiably Christian content.”

    Great!

    May 21, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
    • Mark

      Not great. It must be stopped. This is not a christian nation.

      May 21, 2013 at 11:32 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      I guess that means that 97% of the members of the U.S. Congress are m0r0ns...

      May 21, 2013 at 11:56 pm |
  2. Rynomite

    So theres 41k Christian denominations. Just Xtian. That doesn't count all the other Religions and their sects. Are we supposed to make sure every denomination of every religion gets there chance? Doesn't sound feasible. How bout a moment of reflection for people to do whatever they please instead?

    May 21, 2013 at 4:35 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Rynomite, you mention "How bout a moment of reflection for people to do whatever they please instead?"

      Question: "Do whatever they please instead?" is the same as your complaint that "So theres 41k Christian denominations. Just Xtian. That doesn't count all the other Religions and their sects. Are we supposed to make sure every denomination of every religion gets there chance? Doesn't sound feasible. How bout a moment of reflection for people to do whatever they please instead?

      May 21, 2013 at 5:14 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      The above is false HeavenSent, as the BAITERS are out today.

      Romans 2:15

      May 21, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Phony heavensent wants to ensure satan's lies and chaos rule supreme.

      May 21, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Phony heavensent you have no clue what a BAITER is.

      May 21, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Exodus 31:15 " . . . whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death."

      May 21, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      False HeavenSent, you are the master of baiters.

      May 21, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      +
      Phony heavensent, I do not pollute my speech. Besides, instead of stalking me, don't you want to write your babble on other articles today?

      May 21, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Polluted speech and all sin comes from Satan himself. So you can't be responsible for what you say. Just blame Satan. I sure do, when I have to eject stuck furballs out of my colon. Out you go, Satan and cat hair. Down the drain.

      Amen.

      May 21, 2013 at 9:05 pm |
  3. ISLAM FOUNDATION OF AMERICAN CONSTI TUTION

    Meet hindu god Krishna, who rappppped thousands at will, and a living example for hindus of rapistan india by faith.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tHy3vHjHPfo

    May 21, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
  4. Psalm 94:16 Who will rise up for me against the evildoers? or who will stand up for me against the workers of iniquity?

    Here's a look at Prothero's favorite religion. Can't believe this idiot actually WANTS sharia in the U.S.
    http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/168175#.UZvTBsquCSo

    May 21, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
    • cufi

      Here is an answer to that, how about Psalm 83 🙂

      May 21, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
    • fintastic

      How about a quote from Harry Potter?

      May 21, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
  5. ISLAM FOUNDATION OF AMERICAN CONSTI TUTION

    Meet god of hindu stupid god of hindus, ignorant s, monkey, self centered by nature.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cCmdPABlYrU

    May 21, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
    • meifumado

      Lord Hanuman rocks!!!

      Much cooler then stupid pedophile warlord false prophet Muhammad.

      May 21, 2013 at 4:04 pm |
    • ISLAM FOUNDATION OF AMERICAN CONSTI TUTION

      only by hinduism absurdity of a hindu, ignorant son of a hindu, stupid monkey, self centered by faith.

      May 21, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
  6. o

    Thinking about Jesus before work is a good idea

    May 21, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      For Christians perhaps.

      May 21, 2013 at 4:01 pm |
    • meifumado

      Why?

      May 21, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
    • fintastic

      Nothing like a good delusion to start the day.

      May 21, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
  7. I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

    It will be interesting to see how the Supreme Court decides.

    I hope it will be along the lines that Stephen Prothero outlines.

    There is no need to ban prayer, but if it is used in a governmental context, it needs to be inclusive and not the relentless drumbeat of Xian proselytizing.

    May 21, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
    • derp

      It needs to be banned.

      No matter how inclusive you try to make it, the "Murca is a christian nation" retards will consistently and repeatedly try to force it to be non inclusive and identifiable as their particular form of delusion.

      May 21, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      It won't be banned – there is too much precedent set, which is what the Supreme Court will factor.

      At best we get a clear message that any prayer in a governmental context has to be inclusive.

      May 21, 2013 at 5:07 pm |
  8. ISLAM FOUNDATION OF AMERICAN CONSTI TUTION

    O boy, hindu secular, ignorant self centered by faith can not stand his hindu ugly face in a mirror. Truth hurts. t hindu secular , crook by faith.right. live with it.

    May 21, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
  9. faith

    Ted Jones the crusader not for khrist

    another fulfilled prophecy

    thanks booty ted sambo anvil tom murdock dm dodo dorothy

    i am good

    May 21, 2013 at 3:47 pm |
  10. EnjaySea

    I have a suggestion. The town of Greece, New York should hear from an atheist before every board meeting from now on. How would they feel about that?

    Oh, what you say? They wouldn't want to hear from an atheist? Well that's exactly how unbelievers feel about having Christianity shoved down their throat day in and day out, in this country.

    May 21, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
    • ISLAM FOUNDATION OF AMERICAN CONSTI TUTION

      Ya, listen to ahindu atheist, ignorant self centered, believer of hinduism, fabrication of Evolution and follower of hindu monkeu, stupid secular by nature, as his god. No way, listen to human, not to hindu monkeys, stupid secular , self centerd by nature.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?list=PL605467D31B73B451&v=JHpC3sqtaTE&feature=endscreen&NR=1

      May 21, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
    • meifumado

      Someone earlier suggested that they end meetings praising Satan, I would like that one.

      May 21, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
  11. ISLAM FOUNDATION OF AMERICAN CONSTI TUTION

    One has to be believer of incest to follow some one who committed incest with his sister according to hindu text, as his GOD and follow him in hinduism, racism. Below human civility and and a crime punishable by American law. Meet the one who committed incest and justified it by his hindu secular ism, criminal self center ism.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIFnvPxSJ7k

    May 21, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
    • meifumado

      And now post pics of the illiterate pedophile prophet Muhammad!

      Oh wait you cant, He was so ugly his image was outlawed.

      May 21, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
  12. EnjaySea

    "To side with Galloway and Stephens, therefore, is to determine that members of the House and Senate have been violating the constitution for over two centuries."

    Yep, that sounds about right. It appears that the congress has been violating the constitution. Does that mean all federal and local governments should also be able to violate it? No. It means that the congress needs to stop violating it.

    May 21, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
  13. Muslim Mothers Against Krishna

    Why him and not Mohammad?

    May 21, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      Why HeavenSent's camel-toe rather than her intergluteal cleft? Nobody knows.

      May 21, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
  14. Ungodly Discipline

    If Jesus came from another plane of existence, why did he share the same values and prejudices as his human contemporaries. This is all the proof needed to show that, if he existed, he was all too human.

    May 21, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      as i said below, jesus promoted slavery. wouldn't the "perfect" son of an all-loving and all-caring god know that owning another human being is the worst kind of evil? wouldn't he have gotten that one right...?

      May 21, 2013 at 2:59 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      Indeed Booty.

      May 21, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
    • guest

      Where did Jesus promote slavery?? If you are talking about the Bible verse that says "slaves obey your masters". Those were not words of Jesus. They were the words of Paul

      May 22, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
  15. HeavenSent

    Wind blowing the sands of doubt, which is the prideful atheist's attempt to surf on satan's waves. You can't get to heaven by hanging ten with your father the devil. Don't even get my camel-toe started on beach sand and cracks. The cracks you see are your skull being cracked for not believing His truth.

    Amen.

    May 21, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
    • fintastic

      The cracks in your "skull" are where your brains leaked out.

      May 21, 2013 at 5:07 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."

      Matthew 10:34

      May 21, 2013 at 5:08 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      BAITERS

      May 21, 2013 at 5:13 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      I think I'll go fishin

      May 21, 2013 at 5:29 pm |
  16. Bootyfunk

    more jesus? jesus promoted slavery. jesus told slaves to obey their masters if they want any chance of getting into heaven. jesus told masters to beat slaves that disobey "with many stripes." more jesus? no thanks.

    May 21, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
    • faith

      anvil breath dodo sambo
      booty call

      " jesus promoted slavery."

      prove it

      May 21, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      Luke 12:37-38, Jesus says:
      37 "Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them.
      38 "Whether he comes in the second watch, or even in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.”

      47 And that slave, who knew his lord's will, and made not ready, nor did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes;

      proven.

      May 21, 2013 at 3:05 pm |
    • faith

      Bootyfunk
      Luke 12:37-38, Jesus says:
      37 "Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them.
      38 "Whether he comes in the second watch, or even in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.”
      47 And that slave, who knew his lord's will, and made not ready, nor did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes;
      proven.

      dodo, calm down honey.

      u need to learn how to learn.

      first, ask your psychiatrist to increase your prozac to 80 milligrams a day. that should help.

      second. look up the word, "parable". have someone explain what it means, then holler.

      May 21, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      faith/farce,
      do you use your frontal lobe at all? parable? that's your excuse for promoting slavery? no one that didn't promote slavery would use slavery as an example for ethical behavior. just like you wouldn't bring up the hallocaust to present a lesson on working hard. so yes, jesus supported slavery. nice try though at justifying the disgust found in the bible.

      May 21, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
    • A Conversation

      Booty...what part of "slave culture" do you not understand? Jesus used a parable that his listeners would clearly understand. Right or wrong, it was something the apostles and anyone else listening would have understood. Why do atheists constantly want to equate cultures separated by 2000+ years, language, art, technology, etc., etc. ?

      May 21, 2013 at 4:40 pm |
    • fintastic

      Yup, the bible, the good ole book of this means that.

      May 21, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
    • A Conversation

      @Fintastic...do you have an example of the "this means that" (and I mean in context–can you find one example where one thing means something entirely different to the point of being contradictory, and not merely pointing to a parable as an example, which is no example at all).

      May 21, 2013 at 7:28 pm |
  17. Bootyfunk

    Prothero ignores the fact that praying in a courtroom is promoting religion in gov't. pray on your own time, pray at home, pray in a church, pray at the park or at a beach - but you don't get to pray in a coutroom.

    May 21, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
    • faith

      sorry charlie

      May 21, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
  18. faith

    sambo, anvil face and dorothy couldn't work 2day. how d i no? they b right here with the secksually preveerted language that tips them off. lol

    god had a b o ner, sambo murdock? r u still on prozac and your anti-psychotics

    jus wonderin

    u r still under the care of a team of psychiatrists for the cr i m i n ally ins an e? tell me u r.

    how many ciga ret te s r u smoking a day?

    u were wa rned what's comin

    May 21, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
    • sam

      Hey faith/lol??, how many socies does it take to screw in a light bulb?

      May 21, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
  19. Livilla

    Why do town halls need prayers of any kind? How about they concentrate on the job at hand? If they wish to pray, perhaps those members should stop by their personal houses of worship on the way to the town hall meeting.

    May 21, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      agreed. instead of wasting time on prayer, how about politicians work on the issues like they're being paid to do?

      May 21, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
    • faith

      why should they?

      May 21, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
  20. MrHighMighty

    All these "Christians" who want and use spoken prayer at government meetings should go back and read the teachings of Jesus. Jesus instructed us that His Kingdom is separate from the politics of man. Dragging God into the vile realm of secular government is blasphemous. Does Almighty God want man to honor Him from the cesspool of government, and does God want man to legislate faith? Absolutely not!

    This debate is an example of what happens when "Christians" insist on outwardly involving God in government, and the result is entirely the "Christians'" fault, and they give fuel to Satan by doing it. Satan delights in this debate, as it creates conflict and confusion among believers, devalues the majesty of God, and detracts from God's Grace and His plan of redemption through faith in Christ.

    May 21, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
    • Reality

      Using the teachings of Jesus? Give us a break !

      JC's family and friends had it right 2000 years ago ( Mark 3: 21 "And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.")

      Said passage is one of the few judged to be authentic by most contemporary NT scholars. e.g. See Professor Ludemann's conclusion in his book, Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 24 and p. 694.

      Actually, Jesus was a bit "touched". After all he thought he spoke to Satan, thought he changed water into wine, thought he raised Lazarus from the dead etc. In today's world, said Jesus would be declared legally insane.

      Or did P, M, M, L and J simply make him into a first century magic-man via their epistles and gospels of semi-fiction? Many contemporary NT experts after thorough analyses of all the scriptures go with the latter magic-man conclusion with J's gospel being mostly fiction.

      Obviously, today's followers of Paul et al's "magic-man" are also a bit on the odd side believing in all the Christian mumbo jumbo about bodies resurrecting, and exorcisms, and miracles, and "magic-man atonement, and infallible, old, European/Utah white men, and 24/7 body/blood sacrifices followed by consumption of said sacrifices. Yummy!!!!

      So why do we really care what a first century CE, illiterate, long-dead, preacher/magic man would do or say?

      May 21, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
    • faith

      jimmy carter prayed

      May 21, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      as do satan worshipers and the people who flew planes into buildings.

      May 21, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
    • RealityBites

      You have a very poor understanding of Matthew 3:21!

      God's wisdom snares the wise fools.

      May 21, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      god's "wisdom" is built on guilt, fear and ignorance.

      May 21, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
    • faith

      "JC's family and friends had it right 2000 years ago"

      what family?

      sky fairy had a family?

      may want to try a new anti-schizophrenic pill babe

      May 21, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
    • faith

      faith
      jimmy carter prayed

      dodo, can u repeat first grade?

      May 21, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
    • faith

      "Bootyfunk
      god's "wisdom" is built on guilt, fear and ignorance."

      u r a liar

      May 21, 2013 at 3:05 pm |
    • RealityBItes

      BootyFunk – Is it wise for a proud and boastful atheist to spend so much time on a religion/belief blog? You are on here a lot.

      A lot lot. I mean like A LOTLOTLOTLOT! Like you may have a problem – internet message board addiction is a real thing.

      How wise are you? Really?

      I think the wise thing to do is to do the exact opposite of whatever you do. That is wisdom, baby!

      May 21, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
    • faith

      murdy, nothing in the new testament is authentic

      May 21, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
    • faith

      "DM,
      This debate is an example of what happens when "Christians" insist on outwardly involving God in government, and the result is entirely the "Christians'" fault, and they give fuel to Satan by doing it."

      THERE IS NO SATAN, HONEY. not if u r a nazi god-hating fascist bigot

      jimmy carter prayed and he never flew nothin into a building. one doesn't automatically follow the other. jimmy carter did more to advance peace in a tortured hotspot in the world than anyone. u can't get that with severe bpd, so increase ur prozac to 80 milligrams daily and c if cognitive functioning improves. i mean, u can't be that stupid. no one can be that stupid

      May 21, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
    • faith

      "Reality
      Using the teachings of Jesus? Give us a break !"

      ms. murdock, the golden rule, remember?

      lung cancer is the most excruciating way to die. drowning slowly as your lungs fill gradually with your blood. every bit of strength you have goes to taking a breath, as you drown

      May 21, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.